CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Long before Don Mellor was telling local students about World War II, he had his eyes on a girl who grew up around the block.
“I met Helen at a party,” Mellor said. “It was for a friend who was going into the service. There were a lot of parties back then.”
Seventy-five years of marriage and six children later, 99-year-old Don and 96-year-old Helen still have it and seem ready to bring back Vaudeville.
“After you’re gone,” Helen crooned, looking up at Don.
“After?” he quipped. “I just got here.”
“Don’t go away,” she said. “Because you’re the one that I’m married to.”
A moment passed.
“Or maybe you’re not,” Helen said, bringing laughter from a small group that included two of their children.
World War II was exploding around the time of their first date.
Helen joined the Coast Guard and served stateside.
“She would deliver mail to the lightships in the Boston Harbor, climbing a rope ladder with a skirt on,” Mellor recalled. “So, you can imagine what the crew was saying. Here comes the mail. The fe-mail.”
Don enlisted in the Navy and served in the South Pacific on the battle-tested U.S.S. Hopewell.
The destroyer was hit more than once and lost 17 sailors during the war.
“Inches,” Mellor said, when asked how close he came to death. “Shrapnel flying all over the place.”
Mellor will never forget watching an officer walk down the gangplank to a sailor’s girlfriend while the Hopewell was in port.
“And they embrace, and they talk, and then all of a sudden she goes away, and he gets back on the ship,” Mellor recalled. “He had to tell her why he wasn’t there, and I remember that.”
The schtick disappears, replaced by a brief silence to hold back tears. The memory from some eight decades ago — fresh and painful.
“I think it could be anybody,” Mellor said. “And to be notified like that.”
Their Diamond White anniversary brought a parade of police cars to their home and a visit from Cranston Mayor Allan Fung offering his congratulations.
As far as making marriage last into an eighth decade, the Mellors offered some simple advice.
“Don’t compete,” Don said. “You’re married. Don’t compete.”
Helen seemed to give most of the credit to Don.
“He’s just such a good person,” she said. “He’s just good. I love everything about him.”
In February, Don will celebrate his 100th birthday with Helen right behind him turning 97 in the same month.
“You got to put a little luck in there,” Don added. “Somewhere along the line.”